Article One Partners occupies a distinct niche—it uses crowdsourcing to combat patent trolls—an international mission that's a payments challenge.
"A lot of crowdsourcing is at the lower end with small payments," says Eric Baer, vice president of product at the New York-based Article One Partners. "We do higher end. A typical payment reward is $5,000 to $10,000. It's hard to send $5,000 to some countries."
Article One recently outsourced payments management to Tipalti, an Agoura Hills, Calif.-based mass payments provider, which hosts a payments engine that manages the forms Article One uses to set up payments to its researchers.
"Another problem we had was we were doing manual tax forms, [and our] accounting would send out a PDF to people to fill out and sign and send it back … It was a tedious process that [Tipalti] has automated," Baer says.
Article One performs patent research—its goal is to strengthen legitimate patents and uncover evidence that reduces the monopolizing power of patents that cover pre-existing innovation. Article One employs about 27,000 researchers—mostly retired patent lawyers, professors and engineers. These researchers comb through science journals, academic scholarship, product manuals and other materials to vet patent validity.
"It's high stakes and is very technical research. As we started to increase our volume it became harder to manage payments. We also initiated a program where we were paying people for 'most valuable research.' That was increasing the amount of payments we were making," Baer says.
Article One's researchers reside in about 180 countries, and the company pays larger rewards of up to $10,000 for what it considers premier evidence, and regularly dispenses smaller sums for solid work
"The part we wanted [to outsource] was the payments information such as bank accounts, tax forms and Social Security numbers," Baer says. "These all require a higher level of security and we wanted a partner to manage that."
Tipalti's services include a white-labeled user interface that payees use to register, select a payment method and electronically submit tax forms and other instructions.
"It's a very common problem among many companies with payees that have to get paid on a regular basis but reside all over the world," says Eran Karoly, vice president of sales and marketing for Tipalti. "There are different regulations and in most cases people prefer to be paid in their local currency."
Tipalti researches the country, payment method, transaction details, tracks tax form submission, and performs screening for Office of Foreign Assets Control and other money laundering and "know your customer" regulations. Payees choose to receive funds via U.S or global ACH, paper check, wire transfer, PayPal, Western Union and Payoneer.
"One of the issues that many payers have is they are paying people who in many cases they have never met, [so] there is always the risk of a payee defrauding the payer," Karoly says.
Crowdsourcing and contract work are expanding, providing a market for mass payment companies.
"It used to be that one person would get paid and then that payment would be distributed to the other recipients," says Aaron McPherson, a practice director for IDC Financial Insights. "Now, that can be automated and the payments are allocated automatically. That is particularly helpful when you are dealing with a crowdsourcing program."
"A lot of games are using this," McPherson says. "You can download the game for free and then unlock aspects of it by making purchases. That payment gets divided between the person who operates the platform and the developers."